Nature Calls

Yes, it was true.  My Only had decided to “return home” to attend college.  She was old enough to understand her own choices, and apparently decided it was worth trying to cope with her mother once again.  Truthfully, we women both viewed it as a character-building experience; just whose character would survive wasn’t readily identified at the onset.

Having recently moved into a small, two bedroom cottage with my new husband, I was excited to be a family again!  Even the Rogue was a good sport about the idea; he and My Only got along pretty well, so he reasoned that we could at least help with board and room since she was paying for her own schooling. No problem.

Two was company but three meant finding storage solutions and decorating the one spare bedroom sooner than originally planned.  Again, the Rogue saw no real problem, so My Only arrived and the new family unit settled in.

Two women in less than one thousand square feet with only one bathroom would be more than many males could handle;  but not my six-foot-four, Texas-style, risk-taking Rogue.  He never saw an opportunity that didn’t look like a possible win.

I thanked God that the Rogue suffered from such optimism.  As Daddy used to say, Ignorance is bliss.  For the first few weeks, I was almost convinced, until we decided to remodel our bathroom.  Granted, it needed a good facelift.  Our initial plan was to accomplish replacing each fixture within a given schedule so that bathing was still a possibility during the cosmetic rehab.  No problem.

The Rogue was especially good at tearing out old stuff.  In no time, he’d removed the tub enclosure, sledge hammered the cast iron tub, and inspected the tub surround and subflooring. As with any older home, new discoveries awaited us. The lathe and plaster walls were water damaged.  All indications were the subflooring would have to be replaced as well.

Our plan to keep a functioning bathroom was going to be tricky. My Only cared simply that she could still bathe and that the toilet functioned, so she didn’t complain too much at first; actually, both of us women tried to be extremely good and made a conscious effort to refrain from too much commentary.

Even when the tiling seemed to take forever, we didn’t say too much.  My Only was at school, I was at work, so just how much trouble could we cause if we stayed out of the way?  Each evening, we could see the progress the Rogue was making.  So did it really matter that the project might take a few days longer?  We consoled ourselves that any slight inconveniences would all be worth it over the long term.  Slight was the operative word here. No problem.

 

One school day, My Only returned home, entered the bathroom, and then came to an abrupt stop.  The toilet was missing.  I was still at work and the Rogue was nowhere to be seen.

So, my daughter did what every red-blooded American girl would do. She picked up the phone to call her mother.

Apparently, Nature was calling as well.  I barely picked up my receiver when My Only spewed out the obvious: How were we going to live like this?  And for how long?  What was he thinking? What am I supposed to do?

Non-stop questions continued, and I was fully aware that all patience and understanding were now a brief memory; comments, i.e. You married him, Mom, and further reminders that Nature was calling, etc… comprised the bulk of the conversation.

I listened from my desk; I was eighteen miles away, still deep into the day’s workload, and nowhere near calling it a day.  No problem.  Ignorance is bliss, I reminded myself.  So, I gave it my best shot.

“You’ll have to run next door to the neighbors, Honey, until he gets back with the new commode…yes, I know it’s ridiculous, but the old one cracked when he removed it to replace the ring; this wasn’t supposed to happen, so please don’t tell Grandpa because he had already told us to never replace the original john.  That original one was from 1948 and being older, was one of the better ones…Okay, Okay; I understand you haven’t met the neighbors… Introduce yourself as my daughter, Honey; they are very nice, they’ll understand.  Okay! If you are NOT willing to go next door, then your only other choice is to drive down to the boulevard to the Jack in the Box and use its restroom…no, you don’t have to purchase anything…purchase something if you want to, if it will make you feel better.   Please, please, work with us right now; he didn’t plan to crack the porcelain.  He’ll have the new one installed this evening; I heard from him already; yes, Honey, by this evening, he promised.  I should be leaving soon…

Placated for the moment, she ended the call.  No problem.  After all, I’d married him.  A subtle comment, but a comment still.  Dear God, I hope he gets that toilet in before midnight…

If ignorance is bliss, I can hardly wait.

 

 

New Year Bug

Frogonomics; Chapter 104

 

Happy New Year? Bah Humbug!!!

I’m in a funk.

I thought that by keeping

Germs happy and drunk

 

Enough so, I’d sidestep

A stimulus of ills;

Instead, I’m in bed

Without syrup and pills!

 

Fiscal Cliff Lemmings

And Elves early-retired

Will share in a plethora

Of shelves deeply mired

 

In yesteryear’s fads:

Fake fur and faux pearls.

Passing pestilence and debt

On our little boys and girls…

Hansel and Gretel; the Retirement Years

Like every child in junior high, all my mother had to do was walk in a room and I experienced “embarrassment”; it didn’t matter…whatever came out of her mouth, no matter how entertaining or engaging for the other adults, would easily direct me under the nearest available  table.

My mother was a genial sort who never failed to entertain my mentors with her laughing, smiling, and congenial personality.  Truth is she never stopped talking, especially when she was nervous.  Hence, her stories and jokes were nothing short of revealing to this twelve year old, especially when she shared a chuckle with my eighth grade art teacher.  Like the day she shared her favorite joke:

Eat every carrot and pea in your dish.

Giggle, giggle, smile, and the eyes twinkled.  My teacher thought it was cute; but then, her parents were of the same generation, so I am sure she had learned to cope much better after she’d passed thirty years of age.  I would not recover from this happenstance for another twenty years…

While Mom thought peas and carrots were funny subjects to joke about, she found little other vegetation amusing, especially that from my father’s backyard garden.  She couldn’t believe the amount of water that Daddy used each month to water and care for the plants; the water bill was easily the sorest subject for her every year.  There were other sore subjects as well; like the mud he always tracked in.

Daddy would come home after working all day, pour himself a glass of red wine, slice a piece of bread, grab a couple of slices of salami or cheese, then stroll down the hallway to the backdoor exit; he was on a mission: time to check his garden.

One could follow my father’s steps by the wine drops and French bread crumbs.  The kitchen door was a more convenient exit, but for some reason, he preferred to walk down the sixteen foot long hall, leaving his markings (I never had any problem believing Hansel and Gretel had marked their way back home; I’d witnessed this a hundred times as a child; bread crumbs are easily seen under any lighting, even on shag carpeting!)

Once he’d completely planted the backyard bed and lined up all the paste buckets for that growing season, Daddy moved forward, focusing on the planting space that remained along the sunnier side of our home.  Tomatoes and pepper plants lined the western side of our house, adjacent to our narrow cemented driveway.  Because of the hours of good hot exposure, some of the best fruits of his labor were produced along this narrow planting strip.

Mom maintained that it would have been cheaper to just run to the Japanese produce stand down on the boulevard.  But Daddy had decided that he would always have his garden.  Sometimes, the tension was very strained during those retirement years.  Each time Mom tried to explain that the cost of growing his own garden was not worth all the trouble, my father was more determined than ever to grow his own vegetables.

This particular day, Mom had had it.  The mud that Daddy tracked in with his prize crop (some of the tomatoes were no bigger than marbles) finally was too much for her to take.  She was tired of all the extra dirt and loudly said so. When she flatly refused to wash any of his garden harvest and told him to take it back outside and wash all the dirt off FIRST, Daddy said “to hell with it” and announced he would cook it himself.

I stopped by after work that afternoon, as sometimes I had a few minutes and, having returned to the area, I could enjoy a short visit a couple times a week before heading on home.  I walked in and Mom informed me that Daddy was outside with “his” vegetables.

I stepped out in back and discovered that Daddy had fired up the charcoal grill.  He was cutting up his prize vegetables and throwing them in a pot of water sitting over the coals; he was making soup.

I’m not helpless…I’ll show her…your mother isn’t the ONLY one that can cook…

Obviously, this was a very serious stance in my father’s eyes. I walked back in the house and noticed Mom was peeking out the back window, watching his every move.  She’d giggle a bit, and then return to her kitchen. Soon after, our neighbor arrived home, closed his garage, and saw Daddy over the wall, standing by the grill.  He walked over and heard the entire story while Daddy proudly showed him his “soup” and reiterated,

The woman thinks I’m helpless, you know…

Our neighbor just chuckled and shook his head, finally taking leave and going home for dinner.

Don’t ask me what Daddy’s soup tasted like.  By this time in my life, I was old enough to understand this particular standoff was far from over; good time for me to split…

Clandestine Chicken Skin

It was a simple task, but too tempting to refuse.  I’d come home early enough that Monday evening and decided, because of the heat, a salad would be great and light for dinner.  So, I began the process of boning the left over roast chicken.

The skin; golden, seasoned and succulent – began speaking to my inner kid, the carnivore who never found a bite of meat she didn’t like…    …Eat Me. …. ….Eat Me…. ….Eat… I devoured every bit of skin that remained attached to the leg bones and thighs. One piece of roasted chicken for the bowl, a piece of crispy chicken skin for me, one for the bowl, and so forth; when I realized the pope’s nose still existed, I took a break from the kitchen prep, quickly scarfed that remaining treat, then returned to boning the chicken for dinner.

Habits develop at an early age. Sometimes they stick around, no matter the medical science, new cholesterol data, or your intellectual voice.  That afternoon, I threw all three informational updates into the garbage with the chicken bones.  My only regret was that I’d never taken the time to learn how to tie up a chicken like Mom.

Nothing comes better or sweeter to my taste buds than the outer layer of a roasted chicken, seasoned with the same Mediterranean herbs, salt, and pepper that Mom always used. Toss a couple of onions in the pan and the aromatic fragrance filters to the front door, welcoming family and guests inside.

As a little kid, I just thought Mom didn’t want the chicken to run away. Mom always tied up the chicken.  She claimed that the bird roasted more evenly and stayed juicier with its legs bound and the twine wrapped around the body, securing the wings against the sides.  Whatever.

All I knew was that the string soaked up the pan drippings from the basting during the cooking period.  The string was almost as good as the crispy skin; and more portable. You could pop a piece of the string in your mouth and it lasted longer than the skin.  It was like chewing gum; you eked out all the flavor until the last drop was bleached from the cotton twine…then you disposed of it (properly, of course). My little sister and I used to fight over whose turn it was to get the string.  We would end up splitting what was available.  You hadn’t lived until you’d savored a piece of Mom’s chicken string!

Chicken skin, on the other hand, was more plentiful. It was regarded as part of the meal. One ate what was put on one’s plate – No problem for this carnivore!  Unfortunately, with the heightened awareness and health consciousness that permeates the American kitchen, one now knows better than to partake of animal fat of any kind.  I repeat: One Knows.  Like most habits which are hard to break, I completely disregard that science in the same breath as Darwinian Theory.

All I know is that nothing brings me closer to Mom’s kitchen than roasting a chicken.  Sneaking a clandestine bit of the golden skin during the carving process and popping it into the cook’s mouth while her husband is in the other room is extremely comforting.

What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. No sense introducing him to this particular penchant of mine. In my kitchen, I no longer have to share this special treat with anyone; not even my sister, now that Mom’s no longer watching.

When Life’s Dreams Are Interrupted

There was no doubt in my mind; the effect must have been the same…

I’ll bet you never thought you’d live through anything like this again.

No, I never imagined…thought we’d seen it all….

That was the conversation between my ex mother-in-law and me on Wednesday morning, September 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Towers fell.

For her, 9-11 was the second time she’d witnessed infamy on American shores; she and others her age remembered the radio address that alerted a sleeping giant about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then President Roosevelt had called December 7th, 1941, a day of infamy.  That description would sear itself into History’s future chronicles.

Like many young-marrieds of that decade, her husband would later leave to serve in the Pacific.  She would stay behind, living close to family, raising their first born, the son who had arrived in ’43.  True to character, she worked at the army base located in the local airport of the small, Northern Californian town.

And like most military wives (then and now), she relied on help; often from a favorite cousin, who made sure that she and the little guy had enough to eat.  With rationing and a family of his own to feed, this cousin often hunted as did his friends to bring home extra meat.  She admitted to me that had it not been for him, she and her son would have made do with much less. When I first met them, the mutual devotion was apparent, even after thirty years.

Wartime and necessity had changed her.  She’d always been rather spunky, but she became a real fighter if need be on behalf of her baby son’s needs.  When her little boy needed new shoes (he was fast outgrowing the only pair he had), she’d tried all the normal avenues to no avail; a toddler’s shoe wasn’t necessarily regarded as priority in a very limited, wartime marketplace; sizes and specific items were difficult to come by.

Neither the doctor nor the local authorities were any match for this young tigress. She personally presented her son’s curled little toes inside his only shoes to whatever authority would listen, and did so until she’d obtained a correctly fitted, newer pair of shoes for her son.

The Greatest Generation?  Likely true.  History does repeat itself, however, and that should not preclude us from supporting our own greatest:  the volunteer sons and daughters who currently serve under our flag.  Those of us born after World War II would view September 11 as the closest we had come to living with war on our country’s shores.

More than ten years later, it thankfully remains the closest experience for Americans in our homeland.  We are still safe to plan and dream here. Much credit goes to the many servants in and out of uniform who are diligently fighting the undeclared war against our Judeo- Christian heritage.

You’ve Read My Heart

I could not see through darker days and clouds that hide the silver offered me; if not for You.  You beckon me into Your arms, embracing me well before I sense the coming cold. Responding to my childlike, mumbled cries and tears, Your answers come to my unspoken prayers…I need no longer fear. You’ve read my heart.

Nor would I find when off I roam a niche, a place where I might make with simple skill a cozy home; if not for You.  A sunnier shore, provided when my needs were greater than I could perceive; perhaps a new-born tide, such that we might together walk the sands laid out before me.. . I need no longer hide.  It’s then I know; You’ve read my heart.

Sunday’s Pleasures

I worked at the downtown card shop with another mother who was a pastor’s wife; she had invited us to attend service for some time, so I decided to attend one Sunday and drove across town with my only child to their church.  I remember saying No gum to my little girl as we walked through the doors of the church that first Sunday.  Like many moms in my age bracket, I did lots of explaining; particularly because we all remembered asking Why? and receiving the same Because-I’m-the-mother response for every subject.  So, believing this another opportunity to teach my daughter a proper behavior (culled from my own church-going dos and don’ts), I offered the following:  A child shouldn’t chew gum in church, Honey, it would be very disrespectful. She didn’t like it, but seemed to accept my reasoning and dropped the subject.

While waiting for my coworker to arrive, we were warmly greeted by several individuals entering the vestibule.  Sunday School had just finished, so people were gathering to chat a bit before entering the sanctuary.    The pastor’s little princess normally sat with grandparents and cousins during the service, but upon seeing my daughter and me chatting with her mother she joined us.

Looks can be deceiving; a first time observer would be ill prepared, watching the pastor’s beautifully dressed only daughter; a demurely clad, seemingly shy,  little girl with curls. I was soon surprised at the very clear, no shades of pink, facial expressions that emanated from this little one’s personality.  No doubt in my mind, she was upset.  And everyone else around her knew it too.  Losing the Good Shepherd Trophy to the boys during today’s Sunday School Class was totally unacceptable!  Her little face showed pure disgust.

Equally apparent during her emotional rant was that she was chewing gum.  No one was telling her to get rid of it before entering the sanctuary and sitting down.  My daughter was quick to notice and point this out to me.  I learned later that many of the women carried candy and gum because either item could stave off antsy, hungry little critters until service ended, often well after twelve noon.

From that Sunday on, I carried a Bible instead of a Missal and kept plenty of gum in my purse.  So much for my motherly instincts…